Sri Lanka – Small But Mighty

Fifty-five miles from the southern tip of India lies the small pear shaped tropical
island of Sri Lanka.  Although it is only 271 miles long and 137 miles wide, and
smaller than the state of Indiana, Sri Lanka is one of the world’s top tea export-
ers and fourth largest producer, an amazing feat considering its size.
Tea is not indigenous to Sri
Lanka but rather was brought
there to replace the blighted coffee planta-
tions, devasted by the coffee-rust fungus
(Hemileia vastatrix) in 1869.
After seizing control of Sri Lanka (then called
Ceylon) in 1815, the British brought the first
tea plants to the island shortly after estab-
lishing plantations in Assam at the end of the

Tea had been considered as an alternative
to coffee as early as the 1850’s and at the
Loolecondera Estate in the Hewaheta district
in Kandy, an enterprising, hard working, and
determined Scotsman by the name of James

Taylor was hired to oversee the first test planting of tea with Assam seed.

At the same time Solomon and Gabriel de Worms planted test gardens
with Chinese tea seed in the Labookellie Garden in the Nuwara Eliya
district.  These two early test gardens set the stage for the massive tea
gardens that were to come.

From that point on the Ceylon tea industry grew rapidly, from 23 pounds
of tea produced in 1880 to 23 tons, ten years later in 1890.  Today Sri
Lanka produces nearly 300,000 tons of tea a year, grown on approxi-
imately 650 tea estates, covering close to half a million acres of land.

Ceylon tea is marketed in several different ways.  Sri Lanka’s ctc tea that
is used in 
blends is marked 100% Ceylon tea.  Other teas are marketed by the region, such as
Uva or Nuwara Eliya teas, or they are marked with the estate, such as Kenilworth Estate tea.
Still others are  marketed as specific garden estate teas, for example Bogawantalawa Estate,
Loinorn Garden.

Sri Lanka’s unique geography and climate
provide for three types of tea, which rather
than being determined by the season, such
as spring flush, summer flush, etc., are rath-
er determined by the altitude.  The three
types are; low-grown tea, grown at eleva-
tions below 2,000 feet, mid or 
grown teas, grown at elevations of 2,000
to 4,000 feet, and 
high-grown teas, grown
between 4,000 and 6,000 feet.

Sri Lanka is divided into six main
growing areas; Ratnapura, a low to
mid-growing area about 50 miles east
of the capital of Colombo; Galle, also
a low-growing region to the south; Kandy, a mid-growing area where the first tea plan-
tations were established near Polonnaruwa, the ancient capital of Ceylon; Dimbula, a
high-growing area west of the Central Mountains; Uva, alsoa high-growing area west of
Dimbula; and Nuwara Eliya, the highest tea growing region that produces some of the
best Ceylon teas.

Each of these areas has its own unique climate and
                                                         geography, giving the teas their individual characteristics,
flavors, and aromas.

Because of the heat and humidity most low-grown teas
are unremarkable and used mainly for blends and tea
                                                         bags.  Medium teas grow in a drier, cooler climate and
produce more mellow and fruity teas, and high-grown teas
are what makes Ceylon teas famous, with the high altitude air producing exquisite teas
with deep golden to deep rose liquor and intense flavors.

The small island nation won independence from Britain in
1948, changing its name from Ceylon to Sri Lanka.  But for
marketing purposes and continued brand recognizability it
retained the name Ceylon for its teas.

Most of Sri Lanka’s tea production is orthodox black tea from
single estates or is added to English style black tea blends or as a base for flavored
          teas.  Orthodox tea is more expensive to produce, but is becoming more and more in
demand by tea drinkers worldwide, who are discovering the exquisite flavors available
in loose leaf artisan made 
specialty teas.

In 1993 the Sri Lanka Tea Board offered incentives to tea
factories willing to convert to CTC production from ortho-
dox.  The idea behind this move was to give Sri Lanka the
opportunity to compete for their share of the huge CTC
market with factories in India, Kenya, and Malawi.

The move was a giant failure.  By temporarily focusing on

CTC production, the Sri Lanka tea producers not only lost sales, but also lost their status as a world class producer of
luxury teas.  Most made the decision to return back to orthodox production posthaste.
Today Sri Lanka has regained its status as a premier would tea producer, once again
putting their emphasis on quality and style, as well as bringing new teas to market, such
as Ceylon Silver Tips.  This is one of the few exquisite white teas found outside of China
and it is holding its own against their Silver Needle, or Bai Hao Yin Zhen, with a subtly
sweet, soft citrus flavor reminiscent of an orange pierced with cloves.

To ensure you are buying 100% Ceylon tea look for the logo of the Sri Lanka Tea Board,
which is a stamp mark of a stylized lion holding a sword.